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Compact digital cameras are the trend right now. The size of a credit card, and not weighing much more, they come packed with options like video recording and touch-screen displays. They offer the versatility of a standard digital camera and the portability of a cell phone. But as easily as they fit in your pocket, buying the right one for you takes a little work.

Finding the compact digital camera to suite all your needs can be tricky, so we ve done the work for you. Read further to see what really matters and what seems to matter.

 

Essential Features to Know

Size Matters: Camera Dimensions

You re buying a compact digital camera because you want something small. But be careful. Some cameras sacrifice features for size like the zoom function. And small cameras don t always mean small prices. Pick an appealing size, but don t pick size over features or price.

Lengthen the Lifeline: Battery Life

Batteries have a short lifespan with digital cameras. Battery life is measured by how many pictures you can take on a single charge from 100 to more than 450. Compact digital cameras drain batteries at different rates, so think about your shooting habits. Are you outdoors or at home? Do you have access to an outlet or not? Buy accordingly. And be safe carry a spare.

Up Close and Personal: Zoom

Most compact digital cameras come with a zoom feature optically, digitally or both. Optical zoom moves the lens to make the subject appear closer. Digital zoom crops the image and resizes it, giving the same effect as optical zoom but significantly reducing picture quality. If you shoot lots of close-ups, pick a camera with a high optical zoom and blow up the picture later with image editing software like Photoshop.

Bigger is Better: LCD Display Screen

LCD display screens let you take pictures at impossibly odd angles. Most compact digital cameras have about a 2.5-inch screen, but some have larger. The bigger the screen, the easier it is to compose your shots, review your pictures and read menu items.

Lag no Longer: Shutter Lag

Shutter lag, the time between clicking the shutter button and the camera taking the picture, can range from 0.22 second to nearly two seconds. Pick the camera that suits your habits. You can hold still for a portrait, but you don t want to miss your child scoring his first soccer goal.

A Bundle of Joy: Three Essential Features

Snapshots are usually taken on the fly without perfect composition or ideal lighting. A few features in particular can turn snap-photos into great photos.

  • Red-eye reduction eliminates the annoying glare in eyes, which occurs when the flash reflects off the retinas. (Note: red-eye reduction slightly increases shutter lag.)
  • To avoid camera shake, the blurred effect from subtle movements when shooting in low light or while zoomed, pick a compact digital camera with image stabilization (IS). IS digitally counteracts those subtle movements to shoot a clear picture.
  • Facial recognition software centers on a subject s face, and adjusts aperture and shutter speed accordingly, making the face the focus of the shot. Or take it one step further with Sony s smile recognition feature the camera focuses on the person s smile.

411 on ISO

ISO is how sensitive the image sensor is to light, listed as 50, 100, 200, 400, etc. with a maximum of 6400. The higher the ISO, the less light is required to produce an image 3200 for fast action, 50 for portraits. Make sure your compact digital camera has the ISO range to fit your shooting needs. (Note: the higher the ISO, the  noisier,  or grainier, your picture will be.)

Sight and Sound: Video Microphones

Many compact digital cameras have a video option. But unless you like watching silent movies, make sure your camera has a microphone to capture sound.

 

Nice Features to Know but not Essential

Not a Mega Concern: Megapixels

Resolution is a hot topic, but most compact digital cameras come with around seven megapixels, which suffices for most people. But again, refer to shooting habits. If you print 11x14s regularly, go for higher megapixels. You can always scale an image down, but not up. But for most snapshots, websites and family photos, seven is more than enough. Look at the chart below.

Finished Photo Size

PPI

Math

Megapixels

3 x 5 300

3 x 300 = 900, 5 x 300 = 1500

900 x 1500 = 1,350,000

1.35
4 x 6
300

4 x 300 = 1200, 6 x 300 = 1800

1200 x 1800 = 1,920,000

1.92
5 x 7
300

5 x 300 = 1500, 7 x 300 = 2100

1500 x 2100 = 3,150,000

3.15
8 x 10
300

8 x 300 = 2400, 10 x 300 = 3000

2400 x 3000 = 7,200,000

7.2
11 x 14
300

11 x 300 = 3300, 14 x 300 = 4200

3300 x 4200 = 13,860,000

13.86

 

The Type of Lifeline: Battery Type

A long-lasting battery is essential. But as for the type, most compact digital cameras come with a rechargeable lithium ion battery. They re small, light and last longer than alkalines.

Flashy Business: Built-in Flash

Chances are you ll often shoot in low light inside or at night. Most compact digital cameras come with a built-in flash for this purpose. You won t need to buy a separate one.

Focus on This: Focus Range

Most compact digital cameras have a focus range from about 12 inches to the horizon. Unless you shoot objects closer than 12 inches, like insects or coins, focus range isn t an issue.

Need for Speed: Shutter Speed

Shutter speed varies with high- and low-light situations, and is measured in fractions of a second 1/4 or 1/500. The less light available, the longer the shutter stays open. Most compact digital cameras have the range you ll need for any shooting situation.

In Conclusion

When deciding which compact digital camera is right for you, remember: you re going small for a reason, but don t be sold on size alone. Think about your shooting habits, what features you ll most likely use, and purchase accordingly.

For a side-by-side assessment, visit the comparison chart and see what we ve rated as the top compact digital cameras. At TopTenREVIEWS We do the research so you don t have to!

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